CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Playwright, librettist, and director Dan Kehde founded the Contemporary Youth Arts Company more than 15 years ago with his wife, Penny. He's the managing director of the drama group and has produced more than 50 new and original works for it, including several musical productions with his collaborator, composer Mark Scarpelli.
Kehde is known for his controversial plays. He has covered topics ranging from Internet bullying to homophobia to date rape.
"I think playwrights need to deal with the truth, [and] often the truth is not what audiences pay to see," he said. "But [playwrights], as artists, have an obligation to present our vision of humanity as honestly as possible."
Kehde is honest, indeed, using taboo topics to educate and inform viewers rather than shock them. And though he wants to make his message clear, he doesn't beat his messages into audience members' heads.
"People are going to draw their own conclusions whether the play is morally ambiguous or not," he said. "My job as a playwright is to communicate my vision. I can't really justify ambiguity. If I don't say what I mean, then I'm wasting the audience's time as well as my own."
Though his work may push buttons, Kedhe said he has never had to deal with censorship of his art.
"Censorship is a tricky concept," he said. "No one has told me outright not to produce one of my plays. I've had to tone down some of the language for school performances, and I don't mind that -- that's not really censorship as much as it's simply keeping teachers out of hot water -- but I don't generally subscribe to community standards as guidelines.
"My publisher won't publish my more controversial plays and that's their right, but I still write them and put them on," he added.
And if audiences are offended, Kehde isn't worried. "If the community disapproves of my work, then the community doesn't come to see it, and I respect that. It won't stop me from staging it, but I respect anyone's right not to attend. It's their choice."
As for who influences his work, Kehde named playwrights Bertolt Brecht, Thornton Wilder, James Agee, Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller. He said he doesn't really have any favorites when it comes to specific plays, but he praised Wilder's "Our Town" "for its simplicity and rebelliousness" and Brecht's "The Life of Galileo" "because it is just bloody brilliant."